oach Dennis Espinosa, of Salina, Kansas is a well-known name in U.S. weightlifting. Espinosa has been a weightlifting coach for over 20 years, is an International Weightlifting Federation Category I Referee and has coached numerous athletes to the national and international levels. In this interview, Espinosa talks about the benefits of youth weightlifting, the challenges of coaching and the transformation of the sport over the past 20 years.
Q: When did you first become involved in weightlifting?
A: My mother was a fan of weightlifting in the Olympic Games. I remember watching the 1976 Games with her on TV and sharing her excitement for the sport. There were no Olympic weightlifting opportunities available to me at the time, but I was very interested in the sport. In my late teens, I got involved in powerlifting and bodybuilding. I continued these sports when I opened my own gym in 1988. In 1997, I turned my attention to Olympic weightlifting and became a sanctioned club with USA weightlifting.
Q: Tell me about your weightlifting program.
A: I currently coach 16 youth athletes in two separate programs. My competitive program is called Reps and Sets Team Salina. Right now, I train eight competitive weightlifters in this program. I also run a strength and conditioning program through the Parks & Rec department. The athletes in this program receive general strength training. I use the strength and conditioning program as a feeder program for my competitive team. It helps me identify athletes with the interest and talent to succeed in competitive weightlifting. Also, involvement with the Parks and Rec department gives me a free place to train my competitive team!
Q: What does your typical training session look like?
A: I begin with Coaching Corner, where I gather all of my athletes together and give them an overview of what we will be doing that day. Then, we perform a General Warm Up and a Specific Warm Up, which includes core and stability exercises as well as skill transfer drills. Finally, we proceed into the Olympic lifts.
Q: What benefits does weightlifting offer to youth?
A: Weightlifting requires a tremendous amount of discipline. Kids who stick with the sport learn to organize themselves, become self-reliant, and control their minds and bodies.
Q: Why do you like working with youth athletes?
A: Training a new weightlifter is like unwrapping a gift. You don’t know what talent a child holds until you begin working with him. I enjoy training all types of weightlifters—high energy ones, quiet ones—it is always an adventure figuring out how to motivate and get the best out of each lifter.
Q: What is the hardest thing about being a coach?
A: When lifters leave. A good coach invests himself in each of his athletes. He learns their personalities, what motivates them, and how to develop them into the best versions of themselves. When athletes leave—for whatever reason—it is heartbreaking.
Q: You’ve spent 20 years coaching Olympic weightlifting. In this time, the sport has completely transformed. To what do you attribute this?
A: Olympians always increase awareness and interest for a sport. So, having weightlifters from the U.S. in the Olympic Games has brought more attention to the sport. CrossFit has also had a huge influence by introducing athletes to the Olympic lifts. In fact, CrossFit is probably the best thing that has happened to the sport of weightlifting!
Q: What is different about the sport of weightlifting now than when you started?
A: Young coaches are able to develop their athletes much more successfully now than when I started. This has put the sport in a better position. There are now more talented youth weightlifters than ever before in the U.S.
Q: Why is this?
A: USA Weightlifting’s coaching curriculum is better developed in recent days. Coaches better understand how to motivate athletes, program, and deal with the mental aspects of coaching. Also, information on weightlifting is more readily available and shared.
Q: What advice would you give to new weightlifting coaches?
A: Become a referee. As a coach, it is absolutely essential to know the rules of the sport. The information you gain in the referee courses will benefit your athletes and give you a better understanding of the sport. Soon after becoming a weightlifting coach, I became a referee. The information I gained in the referee courses has made me a better coach.
Also, compliment your lifters regularly. Don’t tear them down; always build them up.